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Go outside: 50 best outdoor activities within 2 hours of Charlotte

Go outside: 50 best outdoor activities within 2 hours of Charlotte

Pause the Netflix, it’s time to go outside. Here are the 50 best outdoor activities within two hours of Charlotte.

Note: Always check individual websites for the most up-to-date offerings, schedules and pricing.  Distances are mapped from Uptown. You get it.


(1) Hike waterfall loop at DuPont State Recreation Forest

Stats: 10,400 acres of forest. 86 miles of trail. 4 waterfalls. 2 hours from Charlotte.

The waterfall hike: The 3-mile waterfall hike will take you to Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls. It’s a laid back hike that will still give you a lot of bang for your buck.

Fun fact: Scenes from The Hunger Games were filmed at the waterfalls in DuPont.

Agenda guide: This 3-mile hike through a 10,400-acre forest features three waterfalls – as seen in Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans


(2) Climb an outdoor rock wall with nothing but a pool to catch you at U.S. National Whitewater Center

Details: The USNWC’s deep water solo is a series of climbing walls (ranging 25 to 40 feet tall) that hang over a 20-foot deep pool. Climbers tackle the wall without a harness and nothing but water below.

Price: $59 adult day pass gets you access to all available land and water activities.

Agenda guide: I climbed Deep Water Solo at the Whitewater Center. Here’s what you need to know and how I did

whitewater center deep water solo

(3) Visit a lake surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains

Details: Lake Lure is just 95 miles from Charlotte and is one of North Carolina’s most scenic lakes. Rent a boat for the day or chill out on Lake Lure Beach. It’s open Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Pro tip: While you’re in Lake Lure, visit the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge. The old bridge between Lake Lure and Chimney Rock was closed to car traffic and transformed into a planted garden over the Broad River. It’s worth checking out.

(4) Kayak Lake Haigler at Anne Springs Close Greenway

Details: Rentals are available on weekends starting on May 25th through September from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No reservations are required. Kayaks are rented on a first come, first serve basis. You can also rent stand-up paddle boards.

Price: $10/person for non-members, $5 for members

Address: 2573 Lake Haigler Drive, Fort Mill

(5) Float down the Catawba River in a tube

The experience: Reserve a tube at Rockin’ River Adventures and float 3 miles from the Lake Wylie Dam to River Walk on a 2- to 3-hour excursion that includes shuttle service, a tube with a headrest, two cup holders and a life jacket.

Price: $20/tube, $5 for a floating cooler

Address: New Gray Rock Rd, Fort Mill, SC

(6) Enjoy a dinner cruise on a luxury yacht or Mississippi river boat

Boat options

  • Lady of the Lake is Queens Landing’s 93-foot yacht. It has two fully-enclosed floors with bars on each level and a balcony that offers lake views. It’s a fancier dining experience and you can even add VIP packages with champagne.
  • Catawba Queen is an old school Mississippi river boat. They offer a more casual buffet-style dinner and there’s a bar.

Details: Dinner cruises sail Friday – Sunday. Check the schedule for exact dates and times.

Price: $64.99 – $74.99 adults, $58.99 – $68.99 seniors, $31.99 – $33.99 youths 5-12, $16.99 – $17.99 children 2-12

Address: 1459 River Hwy, Mooresville

(7) Take a tandem paragliding flight over the Blue Ridge Mountains

The experience: Sky Retreat offers tandem paragliding flights over the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll enjoy the ride with a qualified tandem pilot so all you’ll need to do is take in the stunning view.

Details: Flights are offered weekdays and weekends, weather permitting. $150 for a tandem flight.

Address: 438 Cascade Drive, Purlear

(8) Go on a cycleboat party cruise on Lake Norman

What to expect: A 2-hour cruise on an open air, pedal-powered party boat. Each boat can hold up to 15 people. You can BYO beer, wine and snacks. Private rentals are also available.

Price: $37/person; $525 full boat rental Book here

Address: 17505 W. Catawba Avenue, Cornelius

(9) Fly through the trees on the country’s steepest and fastest zip line tour

The experience: The Gorge Zip Line in Saluda features 11 zip lines spanning 1.25 miles through the tree canopy. You’ll descend 1,100 vertical feet on a breathtaking excursion over 18,000 acres of protected Green River game lands.

Price: $97/person Reserve here

Address: 166 Honey Bee Drive, Saluda

(10) Explore Linville Caverns

About the caverns: Linville Caverns, North Carolina’s only show cavern, allows visitors to go on guided tours into the base of the mountain where bats, salamanders and other critters can be seen. Plus, you can check out cool stalactites.

Details: It’s located at 19929 US 221 North in Marion. Admission is $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 kids 5-12. The caverns are open daily.

(11) Take a canopy tour at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

What the expect: A 3-4 hour guided trip where participants will travel through the trees to 14 platforms via seven ziplines, cargo net climbs, rappel stations, sky bridges, and more. The Canopy Tour is available by reservation only.

Price: $89/per person. Available by reservation only. 

Pro tip: If you’d rather do a shorter tour, go on the Zip Tour. It’s the same level of difficulty but it’s 1.5 hours and $49/per person.

Yoga instead: They host free yoga classes 7 days a week May through September. You can choose from Slow Flow, Open Level Flow and Fun Flow. To see the different times and class offerings, check the schedule.


(12) Go for a sunset horseback ride and have dinner like a cowboy

Where: Country Time Equestrian Events, 310 Joe Lee Helms Rd, Indian Trail

What to expect: Go on a 50-minute guided sunset trail ride through surrounding farmland and then enjoy a cowboy dinner around a bonfire. It’s $80/per person and must be a group of 4 or more.

Dinner menu: Includes grilled chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes and baked apples.

(13) Hang out on the beach on Lake Norman

Where to go

  • Lake Norman State Park features a 125-yard sand beach equipped with a concession stand, bathhouse, restrooms and lockers. $4-$5/per person. Main park is free to access.
  • Ramsey Creek Beach is a 43-acre lakeside park with a half-acre sandy beach It’s open late May through Labor Day with lifeguard service 10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. $5-$10/per car.

Pro tip: If you’re heading to Ramsey Creek Beach, there’s a free beach shuttle available weekends and holidays at 17126 Northcross Drive with service every 15 minutes

(14) Visit Butterfly Bungalow at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Details: The 380-acre botanical garden features a special butterfly habitat home to an abundant population of native North Carolina butterflies. It’s open May 25 – September 2.

Price: $3 + garden admission

Address: 6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont

(15) Go for a ride at Rock Hill’s BMX Supercross Track

Where: 1307 Riverwalk Parkway, Rock Hill, SC

Riding options

  • Beginners can take the New Rider Orientation (Free)
  • There’s a Novice clinic for the next step up ($10)
  • For those with a little more experience, take the Intermediate clinic ($10)
  • Open practice (balance bikes only) is every Thursday from 4 – 6 p.m. ($5)

Rentals: Rent a BMX bike and helmet for $10 or a balance bike and helmet for $5.

See a race: The USA BMX Carolina Nationals and USA Cycling Elite National Championships are happening March 29-31. Free admission.

(16) Shoot sporting clays at The Fork

Location: The Fork Farm and Stables, 3200 Fork Road, Norwood

The courses: Set on 1,600 acres at the Pee Dee and Rocky Rivers, The Fork has two 14 station wooded and field courses, one 7-station small gauge course, a covered five-stand, and a four-person, eight-trap, 65-foot tower/flurry.

Cost: Gun rentals are $35 for the day and targets start at $12.

(17) Walk the Raptor Trail at Carolina Raptor Center

What to expect: A self-guided trail featuring over 30 species of birds of prey, including hawks, owls and vultures.

Price: $12 adults, $10 seniors, $8 students 4+

Address: 6000 Sample Road, Huntersville

See a show: Starting May 26, the Flights of the Forest summer show returns so you can see some of the birds up close and in action. Free with admission.

katie levans carolina raptor center

(18) Go whitewater rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

The experience: Raft down the world’s largest man-made whitewater river, featuring class II-IV rapids. You can opt for the Family Rafting for a little more of a tame experience or the Adventure Rafting for more of a thrilling ride. Upgrade to the Rodeo Rafting if you really want to kick things up a notch (for ages 16 and up only).

Price: $59 adult day pass gets you access to all available land and water activities. Upgrade to the $199 annual pass for access all land and water activities for 365 days.

Pro tip: After your wild ride, grab a beer at the Pump House Biergarten and watch the other rafters head down the channel.

(19) Spend the night in a treehouse at Treehouse Vineyards

Overnight treehouse rentals: 

Taste + tour: It’s only $8 per person for a wine tasting and tour. The tasting comes with a preselected flight and happen at the top of the hour from 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Sunday. No reservation needed.

Agenda guide: You can stay overnight in a treehouse at this vineyard just 25 miles from Charlotte


(20) Soar through the canopy along the Catawba River on a 3.5-hour zip line tour

Details: Canaan Zip Line features a 70-foot tower and 9 zip lines, including one that’s 900 feet long. The full tour is 3.5 hours or you can opt for the “bootleg tour” for 2 hours.

Price: $89 for the full tour; $65 for the bootleg tour

Address: 3111 Sand Island Rd, Rock Hill, SC

(21) Cool off in an urban sprayground

Details: If your idea of “outdoorsy” is a manicured city park, look no further than our guide to 8 free family-friendly public spraygrounds in and around Charlotte.

Price: Free

Agenda guide: A guide to free public spraygrounds in Charlotte

(22) Rent your own camping island on Lake Wylie

Details: Copperhead Island, a 14-acre island near the banks of McDowell Nature Preserve, offers all-inclusive rentals starting at $200/night. It features 6 primitive camping sites, 2 observation decks, walking trails, fishing piers and more.

Price: starting at $200/night for the full island

Address: 15200 Soldier Rd, Charlotte

Agenda guide: You can rent your own 14-acre island on Lake Wylie for less than $200/night

(23) Explore Charlotte’s urban greenway trail system

Details: Mecklenburg County’s features 37+ miles of developed greenways for running, walking and cycling. You find them running from Huntersville all the way down to South Carolina.

Popular routes:

Agenda guide: The complete guide to Charlotte’s greenways

(24) Spend the day walking, eating and drinking along the Rail Trail

Where to drink: Sip craft beer at SycamoreTriple C or Suffolk Punch. For wine, pop into Vin Master. If you need an iced coffee, stop by Not Just Coffee.

Where to eat: Price’s Chicken Coop is a go-to stop for no-frills fried chicken. Head to Hawker’s Asian Street Fare for small plates. If you’re craving tacos, grab a spot at Sabor Latin Street GrillRosemont is ideal if you’re looking to eat and drink (hello alcoholic Capri Suns). Jeni’s Ice Cream is close by for when you need dessert.

Bonus stop: Around the corner from Jeni’s Ice Cream, snap a pic in front of Evelyn Henson’s Confetti Hearts Wall.


(25) Race around the go-kart track at GoPro Motorplex

The experience: Race go-karts up to 55 mph on a 0.7 mile, 11 turn track modeled after the historic Kartdromo Parma circuit in Italy. Each race lasts 10 minutes. No reservations necessary. Just show up and race.

Price: $25/one race, per racer; $45/two races, per racer; $65/three races, per races

(26) Go pick your own strawberries at Hunter Farm

Details: Starting in April, you can go pick your own strawberries. Containers are provided and strawberries are sold by the pound. Availability can vary so call or check their Facebook page before you go.

Address: 13624 Providence Rd, Weddington

(27) Take a day trip to the zoo

Nearby zoos

  • North Carolina Zoo: With 500 developed acres, it is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo. Go see polar bears, elephants, zebras and more. Open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. $15 adult admission.
  • Riverbanks Zoo: Situated on 170 acres close to downtown Columbia, Riverbanks is home to over 2,000 animals. Feed giraffes, watch a live show with seals and zip line over the zoo. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.    $19.95 adult admission.

(28) Sip wine and hang out with llamas at Divine Llama Vineyards

What to expect: Drink local wine and wander around the property, which is home to over 70 llamas. Open Friday & Saturday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Agenda guide: There’s a llama winery 90 minutes from Charlotte and it’s magical

Address: 4126 Divine Llama Lane, East Bend

(29) Shoot your friends with paint at Paintball Park Charlotte

Paintball courses

  • The woods: This field features a large fort, small structures, natural bunkers and cover from natural vegetation.
  • The forts: The large fortresses are a player favorite. Large structures offer a variety of angles and are built to hold multiple players.
  • Tournament fields: Level, grass-covered fields attract multiple tournaments throughout the year, including the national NXL 2man tournament series and the regional CFOA series.

Prices: $29/per person for 3 hours + equipment rental or $44/per person for 6 hours + equipment rental and 500 paintballs.

(30) Swim in a rock quarry at Carrigan Farms

About the quarry: It’s a natural, spring fed, body of water that was discovered back in the last 1960s when mining for granite stone. Now you can swim in it.

Address: 1213 Oak Ridge Farm Hwy, Mooresville

Swimming details: It’s $15/per person to swim at The Quarry (cash only). The next Open Swim will be on Memorial Day, May 27. You must pass a swim test to participate without a life jacket.

(31) Learn to garden at Renfrow Farms

Details: The family farm and century-old hardware story offers classes on everything from organic gardening to composting.

Price: $20/person; $150 for a 10-class pack

Address: 409 W. Charles Street, Matthews

(32) Tee it up at Charlotte’s best golf courses

Best public golf courses: Verdict Ridge Golf & Country Club, Carolina Lakes Golf Club, The Golf Club at Ballantyne, Mooresville Golf Club and Eagle Chase Golf Club (full public golf course rankings).

Best country clubs: Our city’s country clubs have an indisputable upper tier, based on price, prestige and exclusivity – Charlotte Country Club, Myers Park Country Club, Quail Hollow and Carmel Country Club.


(33) Go on a walking tour of Charlotte’s street art

Details: From NoDa to South End, there are a ton of cool street murals all over the city. In fact, there are over 60. Go out and explore them all.

Must see murals:

  • Queen Charlotte bomb at The Local by Matt Hooker and Matt Moore
  • Former Stella mural at Davidson and 35th by Nick Napoletano and Osiris Rain
  • Confetti Hearts Wall by Evelyn Henson

Agenda guide: The definitive guide to 60+ Charlotte street murals, mapped

(34) Visit Wing Haven Garden and Bird Sanctuary

Details: Nestled in the heart of the Myers Park, Wing Haven is rich in both wildlife and history. Wander through the beautiful gardens and see how many birds you can spot. Over 150 bird species have been seen here. Open to the public for self-guided tours Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. $10 admission for non-members.

History: The gardens were created back in 1927 by Elizabeth and Edwin O. “Eddie” Clarkson. Elizabeth Clarkson helped found the Mecklenburg Audubon Society and kept journals of all the birds she saw on the property.

Address: 260 Ridgewood Ave., Charlotte

(35) Jump out of a plane with Skydive Carolina

What to expect: Experience a tandem freefall from the sky as you accelerate to over 120 miles per hour for up to 60 seconds. When the parachute opens, enjoy the view for another 5 minutes as you float to the ground.

First time jumpers: Never gone skydiving before? You’ll receive 30 minutes of classroom instruction before you board the plane with your tandem skydiving pro. They’ve got you covered.

Price: $209/per person for tandem skydiving on the weekends. Book here. 

(36) Pedal around Charlotte with your friends on the Trolley Pub

Details: It’s a BYOB, pedal-powered bar that holds up to 14 people at a time. While it’s mainly powered by pedaling, it does have an electric assist motor for hills. Thank god.

The routes 

Choose your stops or go with one of these routes.

  • Uptown: Stops at Epicenter, Connolly’s on Fifth, Flight Beer Garden
  • NoDa: Stops at Heist Brewery, Birdsong Brewing Company, and The Blind Pig
  • South End: Stops at The Unknown Brewing, All-American Pub, and Tyber Creek Pub

Price: $375 Sunday – Thursday, $399 Friday and Saturday

(37) Go for a hot air balloon ride

Balloon rides

Agenda guide: Here’s where to ride a hot air balloon near Charlotte

(38) Take a moonlight tour on a glowing stand-up paddle board

Details: Aloha Paddle Sports offers Lake Norman nighttime excursions on LED-lit boards. Even the paddles glow. The 1.5 hour tour starts at dusk and you’ll need some previous experience stand-up paddle boarding.

Price: $35 with your own board; $50 with equipment rental

Location: 17505 W. Catawba Ave. Cornelius

(39) Get your adrenaline pumping on a mountain bike trail ride

Trails listed by difficulty

  • Moderate: 7 Oaks Preserve Trail, 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont
  • Intermediate: Itusi Trail, 759 State Park Road, Troutman
  • Hard: Back Yard Trail, 5539 Farmbrook Drive

Pro tip: Check out the Tarheel Trailblazers website ahead of time for trail conditions. Plus, check out review and see how you can get involved.

Agenda guide: 5 mountain biking spots in and around Charlotte that enthusiasts swear by

(40) Climb the summit of Crowder’s Mountain

Trails: Take Crowder’s Trail for a more moderate climb. Go with Rocktop Trail for a more strenuous hike and views along the way. If you want a shorter climb to the summit, hit up Backside Trail. It’s steep but it’ll get you to the top quicker.

Keep in mind: Trails are accessible from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. during March and April and from 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. from May to September. The trails are always less crowded early.

Agenda guide: Top 6 places to hike near Charlotte, plus a guide to their best trails

(41) Hike up a giant granite dome at Stone Mountain

Details: The park offers over 18 miles of trails, including the strenuous 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail will take you to the summit of the massive granite dome. If you’re into rock climbing, you can actually climb the 600 ft. face of the mountain.

Address: 3042 Frank Parkway, Roaring Gap

(42) Take in the view at Chimney Rock State Park

About the rock: The iconic North Carolina landmark offers 75-mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge.

While you’re there: Check out Hickory Nut Falls – The second-highest waterfall of its kind east of the Mississippi. It drops 404 feet from peak to base. It’s accessible on an easy 1.5-mile roundtrip hike at Chimney Rock State Park.

Price: $13 adults, $6 children; ticket info

(43) Walk across a mile-high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain

Details: Sitting at an elevation of 5,946 feet, Grandfather Mountain is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The state park features 12 miles of free hiking trails. Grandfather Mountain also features wildlife habitats, a nature museum and a fudge shop.

The swinging bridge: Plus, you can access the famous mile-high swinging bridge. The 228 foot suspension bridge hangs over an 80 foot chasm and it’s 1 mile above sea level, hence the name.

Address: 9872 NC-105, Banner Elk

(44) Take a dip in one of Charlotte’s swimming pools

YMCA pools: They’ve got over 15 pools and waterparks across our city.

Neighborhood pools: Here are the details on 8 neighborhood swim clubs you can join, including pricing, amenities and waitlist times.

Apartment pools: Get ready to party because Charlotte’s apartment pool scene is huuuge. Here’s the 10 best apartment pools.


(45) Kayak the Catawba River during Rocky Shoals spider lily season

About the lilies: Less than an hour south of Charlotte, Landsford Canal State Park is home to the world’s largest population of Rocky Shoals spider lilies. They bloom May through mid-June.

How to experience them: The spider lilies can be viewed by kayak on the water or along a 1.5-mile hike on land. Thrifty Adventures offers spider lily kayaking trips. $48/per person. Their site says the tours typically sell out in advance so plan ahead.

(45) Explore Latta Plantation Nature Preserve

Details: The 1,460-acre park features 16 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails along the banks of Mountain Island Lake.

What to see:

  • Stop by historic Latta Plantation to tour a a restored 19th century federal-style home and learn about the living history farm of James Latta
  • Head to The Nature Center is a great place to check out live, native animals
  • Visit the Backyard Habitat Garden, which includes bird feeding stations, butterfly gardens, garden pond, and demonstration compost area

Address: 6211 Sample Road, Huntersville

(47) Go fishing at McDowell Nature Preserve

Details: This 1,132-acre park is situated right on the banks of Lake Wylie making it the perfect place to go fishing. There are multiple public fishing docks and you must have a fishing license.

Address: 15222 York Road, Charlotte

(48) Hit the trails at Anne Springs Close Greenway

Details: You’ll find 40+ miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Plus, you can go kayaking in Lake Haigler.

Address: 104 Adventure Road, Fort Mill, SC

(49) Be one with nature in Uwharrie National Forest

Details: The closest national forest to Charlotte features 1,600+ miles of trails on  51,000+ acres of land. Not sure where to start? The Badin Lake Trail is a manageable loop around the lake with 2.5- and 5.6-mile options.

Address: Wood Run Trailhead, NC-27, Mt. Gilead

(50) Play putt-putt, drive go-karts and feel like a kid again at Frankie’s

Things to do: The outdoor portion of the 20-acre park features three 18-hole miniature golf courses, three custom designed go-kart tracks, a spinning tea-cup ride, swing ride, halfpipe ride and some crazy ride named “Discover” where you hang upside down while spinning 60 feet in the air.

How does it works: You load up a “Fun Card” with money and then use the card as currency throughout the facility.

Where: Frankie’s is a 20-acre amusement park in Huntersville

Agenda guide: Take a tour of Frankie’s, now open near Charlotte


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